Governor Tim Walz has announced that Minnesota's schools will close down for two weeks as of Wednesday.
The governor has signed an executive order authorizing the closure of the state's K-12 public schools starting Wednesday until Friday, Mar. 27.
The move is being taken to give schools time to make plans for long-term distance learning, suggesting that the closure could be extended beyond Mar. 27, though for now the plan is to re-open on Mar. 30.
However, the order requires schools to provide care for elementary-age children of healthcare workers, first responders and other emergency workers on school days "to ensure Minnesota’s first line of defense against COVID-19 can stay on the job."
Some schools, including Eden Prairie School District and Big Lake Schools, have announced the closures will start as early as Monday.
"We are not planning for a couple of snow days. We are planning for the potential of weeks of distance learning delivery," said Education Commissioner Cathryn Ricker.
She also said that school workers do not need to keep coming to work if they're a member of a vulnerable population. "They need to stay home," she said.
School districts have been instructed to keep paying staff in the event of distance learning, including bus drivers, nutrition staff, and other hourly wage workers.
At the same time, child-care centers are urged to stay open.
"Not asking child-care centers to close. Asking them to remain open whenever possible," said Steve Grove, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development.
It comes just three days after Gov. Walz said they would not close down schools for now, instead asking schools to limit large gatherings of students.
Data from other countries have shown that children are less likely to be severely impacting by the coronavirus, but also that large gatherings of people can make the virus spread. It comes amid wider efforts calling on people to stay home if they can.
"My top priority as Governor is the safety of Minnesotans. As a former teacher, and father of two teenage kids, I’m especially focused on the safety of our children,” said Governor Walz.
"I am ordering the temporary closure of schools so educators can make plans to provide a safe learning environment for all Minnesota students during this pandemic. Closing schools is never an easy decision, but we need to make sure we have plans in place to educate and feed our kids regardless of what’s to come."
"A decision to close schools has a magnitude of consequences that will change life as we know it in Minnesota," he said at a Sunday press conference.
"Every Minnesotan will be put in a position to be as safe as possible from COVID. Every child will have the opportunity to get a meal. Every child will have access to high quality education," he said, noting the fight against COVID-19 "is not going to be a day or two. This is going to be weeks or months."
"The safety and well-being of our students is always our top priority," Ricker said.
"That is why we are committed to creating an education delivery model that can sustain learning, no matter the circumstances.
"Minnesota has long valued education and we will continue to work with our school leaders to ensure that our students continue to receive the education they need and deserve. Educators are caring, creative people and I am confident they are going to work to meet the needs of our students in these extraordinary times."